Sermon: Potlucks of Epic Proportions

Sunday, June 9, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Day of Pentecost

Before I went to seminary, I lived in Lincoln for a few years.  I had just gotten back from the Peace Corps, and I was trying to readjust to life back in the US.  Because of my experience teaching English as a foreign language, I quickly got a job with an organization called Lincoln Literacy.  At Lincoln Lit, we worked with refugees and asylum-seekers and other immigrants – with and without documents – we taught them English and helped them find jobs and adjust to their new life in the US.  I loved working there.  Almost everyone I worked with – students and staff alike – seemed to feel in some way like fish out of water, just like I did.

We had students from all over the world: from Mexico and Guatemala and Venezuela, from Iraq and Afghanistan, from Bosnia, Sudan, Congo, China, Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, all over.  In our classes, you would see people of every color, people dressed in hijabs and blue jeans and saris and intricately woven fabric. During one particularly hot summer, one of my colleagues even showed up to work a few times wearing his wife’s skirts to keep cool – and no one so much as batted an eye.  Everyone belonged, just as they were.

Continue reading “Sermon: Potlucks of Epic Proportions”

Sermon: Us and Us

Sunday, May 19, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fifth Sunday of Easter

During my first few months in the Dominican Republic, I lived with a host family.  They were very nice people and I got along great with them for the most part.  But my host mom, Doña Nicia, never thought I ate enough – she was always trying to get me to eat more.  The trouble was that, after a while, I had gotten really tired of eating rice and beans all the time.  It was always the same thing every day: rice and beans, stewed meat, mashed plantains, and a big mug of fresh milk in the morning and in the evening – the milk part sounds really nice until you find yourself actually having to peel your milk twice a day (I never thought I’d appreciate the word “homogenized” so much).

One day, Doña Nicia’s daughter-in-law, Moraima, made a great big pot of a rice dish called chofán and brought a bowl over for me.  It was basically fried rice with a mix of vegetables and some chicken – and I completely devoured it.  Seeing this, my host mom was like, “Aha!  She likes chofán!”  So the very next day at lunch, Doña Nicia proudly set before me a big, heaping bowl of “chofán”; except, instead of rice and a mix of different vegetables, this was rice with a mix of different meats: chicken, pork, goat, and – I swear to you this is true – hot dogs, all chopped up into little pieces.  I knew she was so excited to make it for me, so I ate as much of it as I could stomach.  But to be honest, I felt a lot like I imagine Peter did in our reading from Acts.  In Peter’s case, he has a vision of some kind of bizarre picnic descending down out of the clouds – and a voice tells him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat!” and Peter takes one look at that picnic and is just like, “Uhhh… pass.”

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Sermon: Mary — Mother, Outcast, Prophet

Sunday, December 23, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fourth Sunday of Advent

Our gospel reading this morning contains one of the most famous – I’d even say infamous – texts in all of scripture.  In this passage from Luke, right off the bat, we get the sense that something unusual is coming.  This is a story about two women – the whole passage, all seventeen verses, details their conversation – and when you consider the time that it was written, it’s amazing that it was written down at all!  Luke tells us that Mary traveled to the “house of Zechariah,” but Zechariah doesn’t even show up in this story.  If you were here a couple of weeks ago, you can probably guess why that is!  (Exactly right!  Zechariah was stricken mute when Elizabeth’s pregnancy was announced).  This story is about Elizabeth and Mary – not about Zechariah and not even about Joseph.

In this passage from Luke, Mary sings a song we could arguably call the very first Christmas carol.  You have probably heard these words before.  If you’re familiar with Holden Evening Prayer, then you have definitely sung these words before!  This is the song that we call the Magnificat.  Magnificat means “magnify” in Latin – it’s the first word of Mary’s song in Latin.

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Sermon: Axes, Unquenchable Fire, and Joy

Sunday, December 16, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Third Sunday of Advent

Last Sunday, as you might remember, we spent some time talking about the season of Advent.  We talked about how Advent is intended to be a season of hopefulness and of joyful expectation.  In retrospect, I realized that the sermon I preached last week might actually have been even more fitting to preach today!  Today is Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word for “rejoice.”  It’s the Sunday of joy.  Today we lit the rose candle in our advent wreath.  Historically, Advent has been considered a kind of mini-Lent – a season of solemnity and fasting and penitence.  And even though the church has moved more toward seeing this as a season of expectation and preparation, it’s still good to be reminded that we are waiting for something joyful: the coming of the kingdom of God, Christ’s reign of justice, peace, and love on earth.

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Sermon: Feast of Love

Sunday, November 25, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Reign of Christ Sunday
Wedding of Joshua Kenge and Esperance Sudi
First reading     Psalm     Second reading     Gospel

Today the church celebrates the festival day of the Reign of Christ – or Christ the King Sunday, as it’s also known.  Hopefully by now you’ve noticed that we’re also celebrating a wedding today! These are actually themes that go together very well.  Today we celebrate that Christ is our one true ruler.  We remember that our true citizenship is as citizens of his kingdom – we are all citizens of the kingdom here.

The kingdom of God is spoken of throughout scripture as a place where there is no more mourning or crying or pain, where there is no more death, where the poor and the lowly are lifted up, and where all creation lives in perfect harmony and love.  And one of the most common images used in scripture to talk about the kingdom is the marriage feast.

Today, we celebrate the marriage feast of Joshua and Esperance.  Today they make their vows of love and faithfulness to one another in the presence of this assembly.  And the celebration of their marriage actually has a lot to teach all of us about God’s kingdom of love.

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Sermon: Open Heart Surgery

Sunday, October 14, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost

“Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

I think that this verse from Hebrews is a pretty accurate summary of all of our readings for today. From Amos’ dire prophetic warnings to Jesus’ disturbing conversation with the rich man, these are all very challenging texts.  And like a sword, our gospel text for today cuts us open to our very core.  Mark has been pulling no punches – we’ve been working our way through some very difficult passages together over the past few weeks, on hell and death and divorce, and the hits just keep on coming. Let me just say again for the record – I did not pick these texts!

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Sermon: The Doctor Is In

Sunday, September 30, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
(Service of Healing)

This is a rough, rough gospel text for today.  With a text like this, instead of, “Praise to you, O Christ!” it kind of feels like a more fitting gospel acclamation would be just, “Wow, O Christ,” or even, “WTF, O Christ?”

And some of us may have already come to worship today carrying some pretty rough feelings.  This has been a very difficult week in our nation.  Many folks who have known the horror of sexual assault have been reliving some of their worst trauma this week.  Many people have seen in these events their own experience of not being believed, whether it be about the truth of their experiences, or about their innocence in the face of harsh accusations.  And I think all of us have probably been discouraged with the reminder of just how viciously divided our country has become.  To those of you who are struggling, who are feeling raw and vulnerable today, I see you.

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Sermon: See Me After Class

Sunday, September 23, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost

As I was reading our gospel for this week, I found myself thinking back to what it was like to be in elementary school.  Do you remember your school days? (I know it was longer ago for some of us than others!)  Did any of you ever get in trouble with any of your teachers? (of course not; I’m sure you were all perfect little angels!)  I’ll admit that I sometimes got in trouble with my teachers, mostly for daydreaming and spacing off — and for doodling all over my homework.  And every once in a while, I’d get an assignment back with those four dreaded words written at the top: “See me after class.”

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Sermon: Clash of Empires

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Saturday, December 9, 2017
Iglesia Luterana Cristo Rey, El Paso, TX
Fiesta de Las Posadas

María y José eran personas ordinarias, gente como nosotros. Vivían sus vidas entre su pueblo. José trabajaba como carpintero y los dos cuidaban a sus familias. Pero sus vidas fueron cambiadas drasticamente por dos eventos. Uno fue que el emperador romano, César Augusto, mandó que toda la gente fueran a los pueblos de sus ancestros para inscribirse en el censo. Esto lo hizo para poder sacar más impuestos. El otro evento, claro, fue que un ángel apareció a María y le dijo que daría a luz al Hijo de Dios. Y de repente, esta pequeña familia se encontró en medio de las acciónes de dos grandes poderes: el imperio romano y el reino de Dios.

Mary and Joseph were ordinary people, regular folks just like us. They lived their lives among their people. Joseph worked as a carpenter and both of them worked to care for their families. And then two events happened that drastically changed their lives. One event was that the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus, ordered that all people should return to their ancestral homes in order to be registered in a census. He ordered the census so that he could wring more taxes out of the people. And, of course, the other event was that an angel appeared to Mary and told her that she would give birth to the Son of God. These events left this tiny family in turmoil, caught up in the middle of the actions of two great powers: the Roman Empire and the Kingdom of God. Continue reading “Sermon: Clash of Empires”

Sermon: Paging Dr. Jesus

Sunday, November 26, 2017
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Reign of Christ Sunday

I don’t know about you all, but our texts for today leave me feeling a whole mess of different feelings. On the one hand, we have these lovely images of God as the compassionate shepherd looking after the flock, and caring for the “least of these.” But then we run into all this harsh language about judgment and destruction. It’s like being handed a bouquet of roses, only to have our fingers pricked by the thorns. Our gospel text today is particularly strong. This passage from Matthew is the only detailed account of the last judgment to be found anywhere in the New Testament – but even so, it’s definitely left an impression on the popular Christian imagination. Continue reading “Sermon: Paging Dr. Jesus”

Sermon: Property of God

Sunday, October 22, 2017
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost

In our gospel reading for today, we find Jesus still teaching in the temple and the religious leaders still trying to find some way to trip him up. The Pharisees have decided that it’s time to play another round of “Stump Jesus,” and this time, they’ve thought up a clever question to catch him in a trap: Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Continue reading “Sermon: Property of God”

Sermon 10: Little Seeds of Love / Semillitas de amor

(Se encuentra el texto en español más abajo)

Sunday, November 22, 2015
Christ the King Sunday
St. Andrew Lutheran Church, West Chicago, IL
John 18:33-37
33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters[a] again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

11248945_10154335031654348_3395363386277357293_nYou can hear Pilate getting frustrated with Jesus in their conversation in today’s gospel reading. Jesus is dragged into Pilate’s office by an angry mob who demand his death. Yet, despite this, after hearing the case, Pilate can’t seem to find anything that Jesus has done wrong. He questions Jesus about why the chief priests of his own people have handed him over, but Jesus’ answers are maddeningly unhelpful. Jesus talks about his kingdom, but refuses to admit whether he is really a king or not. “My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus says. Pilate must have wondered to himself, “Just what kind of a king is this guy?”

Today, we ask ourselves the same question, as we celebrate this Christ the King Sunday. Just what kind of king is this Jesus that we follow? Continue reading “Sermon 10: Little Seeds of Love / Semillitas de amor”

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